The Renaissance of Video Game Adaptations

By: JJ Ledewitz  |  November 21, 2023

By JJ Ledewitz, Staff Writer

On May 28, 1993, the world was graced with Super Mario Bros, a film considered to be one of the worst video game adaptations of all time. It could have ushered in a new genre and a new wave of fans, but it had a totally different effect. 

The following two decades were filled with dozens of video game adaptations that continued to let their fans down. There was Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Doom, and Silent Hill, to name a few, but, sadly, the list of underwhelming adaptations goes on. It seemed like there was something cursed about them, as each adaptation was disliked. Sometimes, the complaint was that the film stuck too close to the game and needed more independence, and other times, the film drifted too far from the game, trying too hard to be its own entity. It seemed impossible to find the fine line between encompassing the original essence of the game and giving it a creative spin.

But recently, video game adaptations have become better. In film, this started with 2019’s Detective Pikachu, but with TV, this began back in 2017 with Netflix’s Castlevania, and since then, the “curse” has been lifted. Films like Sonic the Hedgehog and The Super Mario Bros  Movie hit theaters, and series like The Witcher, Arcane, and The Last of Us, hit the small screen and were highly praised.

But what caused this? What changed video game adaptations from being detestable to delectable? Here are two likely reasons.

First, filmmakers have finally realized that video games have something that the adaptations do not; choice. Hollywood has always seen a video game as a pile of money that can be transformed into another pile of money, one that is hopefully bigger. But now, the idea that a video game is controlled by the player, not anyone else, has begun to seep in. There is no way to change the trajectory of a film while watching it. It is the director’s choice what happens, not the viewer’s. There is no real way to transform a video game into a film, while bringing in the game’s true spirit; choice. 

Second, fans of the games have now grown up and joined the filmmaking industry. Having a fan of the material be the one adapting it, is a sure way to confirm that someone behind the scenes knows what fans want to feel from the game. A fan of the game understands what makes this specific game special, and understands what can and can’t be changed to it.

All in all, the renaissance of video game adaptation has begun. Games like Stray, Iron Lung, Minecraft, and The Legend of Zelda have upcoming adaptations, and, unlike only a decade ago, fans are excited. There is no need to assume the worst anymore.